2010 Recipient of Ag in the Classroom's Literacy for Life "Emerging Seed" Award
John L. Golden Elementary in Etiwanda, San Bernardino County
This interview was originally published in the March 2010 issue of CFAITC's e-newsletter, "Cream of the Crop."
How long have you been teaching or working with students?
I earned my Early Childhood Education Certificate in 1979. I have worked with newborns all the way through elementary-aged students. (I have worked with adult lessons on a professional basis within our district, too.) After getting married and starting my family, I went back to school and earned my Clear Teaching Credential. I have worked in the Etiwanda School District for 20 years.
Why did you choose to become an educator?
I was raised in a large family. I am number 7 of nine children. We helped each other on a daily basis and I believe that I felt satisfied in that capacity. As far back as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a teacher. (I briefly changed my mind after I graduated from college in 1981, but went back 10 years later.)
The garden quilt was machine felted, cut out, and sewn onto a backing piece of fabric that was covered in dyed wool. This quilt won first place in the 48th D.A.A.'s annual fair.
How do you integrate agriculture into the curriculum or activities you teach?
Informally, I believe I use agriculturally related topics almost daily in my classroom. We have a garden outside my building that we tend to. We discuss the plants and native animals that we see on our campus. I have a very supportive administration that allows me to bring my interests of gardening, sewing, quilting, and general crafts into my teaching. We make a quilt each year with an academic base, but use several types of media for the presentation. (We've machine sewn, hand sewn, machine felted and hand felted. We've also made "rope" out of roving yarn.) Several of the stories and topics in the curriculum lend themselves to agriculture extensions, such as: "The Talking Cloth" (quilting), "The Garden of Abdul Gasazi" (topiary gardens), Native Americans and local history (weaving, agriculture, climate), to name a few.
Describe any innovative agriculture-based projects you have been involved in developing.
We use story quilts to show the history of the community. One quilt features a felted image of a school garden, while another has an image of the state of California's agriculture resources paired with a color-coded key. Our current quilt uses recycled sheets to form hexagons and triangles, with "pop top" lettering for the title. This will be entered into the 48th District Agricultural Association fair in April 2010. I acquired our school garden from Dr. Lynn Diaz-Rico, of California State University San Bernardino, when she had to move it from the San Bernardino Museum. We have more than 800 students who see this daily and eight classes who manage the plots. We also have poetry projects. We write poetry to reflect the changing seasons.
The hand-felted quilt represents the agriculture that is raised or grown in the regions of California. My students used it to determine what grows in certain weather and we used it in conjunction with the Native American unit. The fourth-grade students used it this year when they were learning about the regions of California and the resources that were available. This quilt won "Best in Show" in the 48th D.A.A.'s annual fair.
Give an example of how you use agriculture to teach in your classroom or in your program.
The objective of our current quilt is to learn about hexagons and triangles. While designing the quilt, I also included using hot and cold colors for visual arts, and am using recycled materials that are normally discarded on a daily basis. The students are learning about math, art, environmental issues, fine motor skills, and traditions that have been a part of history out of necessity or for pleasure (quilting, weaving, using found materials to survive). The students are proud of their accomplishment and can't wait to discuss it at home and share it with the other children.
Tell us about one person who has most influenced your own education and educational career.
My parents! My father came from a family of ten children and was raised to do work with his hands. My mother had to make do with what we had and make it work for all of us. I learned how to sew at age 5. I learned how to compost, weed, plant, grow our own food, and manage the garden as a routine at a very young age. I grew up with needlework samples on the walls that my great-aunt made when she was a little girl. Pictures and paintings of my father on their farm were also treasured decorations. Visits to my grandmother's house in Oregon extended my agriculture experience. We would feed the chickens, ride horses, visit with the cows, pick berries, and enjoy life as they did each day on the farm. Also, when I visited my other grandparents, in Escondido, I learned a lot from my grandfather about gardening and growing fruit in the city backyard.
Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
My first quilt was a story quilt about the history of Fontana. The students in my third-grade room had academic levels that ranged from preprimary to grade seven. At the end of the project every single student could tell me the highlighted history of their community based on the pictures that they had created on their quilt! This was empowering for both them and me. I realized that the stress of the project and the time we put into it was definitely worth it.
What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
I was fortunate to have attended the National Conference, in Costa Mesa, as my first AITC event. I loved it! The friends that I made and the inspirational talks that I had, validated my way of working and thinking. I (my students) am pen pals with my ag friend, Sandi, from North Carolina, this year. She symbolizes the heart of the organization and has been great to keep in contact with for the last two years. The generosity of the organizers and workers at the event made me, a newbie, feel as if I was one of the family even though I attended the event alone.
This quilt is in-progress for 2010 and will be entered in the fair.
Why is it important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today’s society?
My students are growing up in a technological age of fast results and immediate feedback. No longer do they have to milk the cow before they come to school and learn about the consequences if they forget to do it. They need to be aware of where their food, clothing, plants, and other items that they use on a regular basis, come from. They learn how our climate impacts the state's agriculture and in turn the availability of food in their local stores. The students brainstorm ways to gather water and transport it to our section of the state in the current drought conditions that we are in. They enjoy learning about "old traditions" and how to incorporate them into their fast-paced life. They weave because it is new to them, but learn along the way that the Native Americans needed that skill for warmth and making containers for food and to transport small items. Children need to step out of their shoes and realize that people work very hard to make sure the grocery stores are stocked and we are all clothed and healthy. I look at my students as the future to unanswered questions and unsolved problems. If I can expose my students to a variety of topics, situations, problems, and life experiences, perhaps one of them will, in turn, be the person who will solve issues, grow new crops, and create ways to carry on the agriculture message!